leaders

An Open Letter to Extrovert Leaders: How understanding 50% of the population will improve your productivity and innovation

 

Hello, Extrovert Leaders! How are you? I’d love to meet you in person, but I seldom have the chance.

You see, I give talks on how organizations are overlooking and under-utilizing the people who are generally called introverts, whom I call “quietly brilliant.” (The term introvert is fine, even though in our society the label is too often confused with shy or neurotic.)

When I give my talks, the room is generally crowded – sometimes with standing room only – with introverts. I’m grateful for the enthusiasm but sad that I am repeatedly preaching to the choir. Introverts are grateful to have their positive attributes discussed openly, along with ways leaders can help them engage. But they often say the same thing, “The person who needs to be here isn’t. I wish my extrovert supervisor could hear this.”

So I’m asking you: why do you not come? Is it that you think you don’t need to know how to engage with us because there aren’t that many of us in the workplace? Perhaps you don’t realize introverts are over 50% of the population; this would include your employees, staff, and team members.

By the way, that includes your customers and clients, too.

Wouldn’t you like to: 

•   Turn those cool and seemingly unapproachable colleagues and teammates into warm and dedicated contributors?

•   Run meetings where EVERYONE contributes without pulling teeth?

•   Discover new sources of innovative leadership in your organization that you didn’t suspect existed?

•   Develop warm collaboration within your department and with other departments?

•   Work with resistant, deep-thinking prospects to earn their respect – and eventually their business?

•   Use rewards that really fit individual temperament – and truly motivate people?

And this knowledge and these skills aren’t limited to your professional life.

Maybe you have one of the following challenges:

•   A child who doesn’t seem motivated in the same ways you are, and you are exhausted trying to reach them.

•   Your mate sometimes retreats into a private world where you can’t seem to follow.

All of these and more are reasons to understand the neurological differences between introverts and extroverts, and to be willing to work with those differences to facilitate communication.

Here are a few starting points:

We prefer quality over quantity: “Innie’s” brains respond more strongly to external stimulation of all kinds – conversation, noise, clutter – than do “outies.” So we get overwhelmed and exhausted more easily. As a consequence, we need to retreat to recover from too many conversations and ideas.  We want meaningful conversations, not “small talk.”

We process things deeply: Information that enters the introvert’s brain is processed through more areas of the brain than for the extrovert before the introvert responds. In addition, quiet people are often storehouses – no, warehouses – of detailed information that they can pull together to give a really insightful picture of a situation.

So how do handle these differences? Here are some of the things you can do to connect and communicate:

•    Send advance signals when you want to engage an introvert

A good place to start, if you run meetings, is to have an agenda that you give out in advance (not just on the table as the meeting starts). Or you can casually give verbal advance notice, as in, “We’re meeting later today and I’d like your thoughts on ….”

•    Slow down and allow pauses in conversation 

You may expect conversation to flow quickly and easily. When there is a pause, you may be tempted to fill the silence with prompting, such as, “So what do you think?” or “Should we go ahead with this?

Curb that impulse. After you’ve fired your request, if you’re pretty sure you’re talking to one of these quiet people, take a deep breath, relax your body language, and wait for what you will feel is an interminable amount of time but is actually just as few seconds. The result can be a thoughtful, in-depth response, and can be well worth waiting for.

You can also fire off your request, leave the scene, and come back later, asking, “Do you have any further thoughts on what I said earlier?”

More reasons to motivate you to understand introversion

Introverts may constitute more than 50% of the intellectually gifted. In fact, one study indicates we may be 75% of the gifted. With people such as Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett on our team, it’s no surprise to some of us.

As a lifelong introvert, I realize introverts also need to develop skills to understand the extrovert temperament, reach out, and communicate better. It’s a two-way street on which I am dedicated to making the traffic flow better.

But I need both sides to participate to make this truly happen. Please join in the discussion if and when you have a chance. Learning how to connect and communicate with people who are different from you is a life-enriching experience, both professionally and personally.

Finally, when faced with what seems to be a non-participating employee, consider this question asked by a veteran consultant: “Did you hire them that way, or did you make them that way?”

_______________________________________________________________________

Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based acclaimed national speaker, author, and executive coach with more than 30 years of experience in speaking and training.

Author of The Confident Introvert,  and a life-long successful introvert, she believes that America is overlooking and even discouraging its intellectual treasure: the 51% of the population who are introverts, and who are highly representative of the gifted.

In addition to helping quiet people thrive in a culture that idealizes extroversion, she gives leaders the tools to manage diverse groups in the same setting, and to develop the talent that is quietly under their noses.

Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com  to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Is Introversion Main Stream at Last?

The topic of introversion has now entered the mainstream. How can I tell? This topic, which I have championed for so many years (full disclosure: I am an introvert), has now appeared in one of my favorite comic strips, and I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

In the Dilbert strip of July 23, an introvert appears and utters all of the stereotypes about introverts being despairing, lonely, and avoidant of conversation. Introversion has become part of the workplace diversity conversation, and that’s a good thing. Picking up on that trend, Dilbert, which satirizes workplace behavior, has now made this contribution, and I know it’s satire; nevertheless, I seem to have lost my sense of humor.

You see, I also know that introverts, no matter how skilled or intelligent, tend to be the last-hired. I know, from studies such as that done by Ones and Dilchert (Industrial & Organizational Psych, 2009), that introverts constitute only 12% of supervisors, and that percentage decreases as you go up the managerial levels, dwindling to a scant 2% at the very top. At the same time, the presence of extreme extroverts rises to 60% at the top.

This is only natural, right? Well, no, actually introverts can make extremely fine leaders, especially for groups of people who have good ideas. The introvert leader will allow others speaking time, listen carefully, and be willing to integrate other people’s ideas into the overall scheme. How do we know this? Besides assertions by people such as Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, a study of companies and the leaders who went from being merely good to great, research studies such as the one reported by Adam Grant et al. affirms this.  

The problem? Well, the title of that research article for one thing. “Leadership Tip: Hire the Quiet Neurotic, Not the Impressive Extrovert” (Forbes Magazine, 2013). Neurotic? The opposite of extrovert is neurotic?

Bendersky & Shah (Acad. Mgmt. J. 2013) reassure us that introverts not only make good team members, but that eventually their excellent contributions are recognized over the chatter of more outspoken but sometimes less thoughtful people. I’m glad to hear this; my only objection is their title: “The Downfall of Extroverts and the Rise of Neurotics.”

Corporations are just now beginning to recognize introversion, which is based on a neurological difference, as being an appropriate and even necessary topic for inclusion in their diversity programs.

So I wonder if you could replace introverts in that comic strip with another group that is marginalized in our society and just on the edge of being understood and valued. Would it work and still be funny? I don’t know. I would welcome your reactions.

I just wish that our group, introverts, hadn’t leaped from being marginalized as “peculiar” to the mainstream with no stops in between.

_______________________________________________________________________

Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based acclaimed national speaker, author, and executive coach with more than 30 years of experience in speaking and training.

Author of The Confident Introvert,  and a life-long successful introvert, she believes that America is overlooking and even discouraging its intellectual treasure: the 51% of the population who are introverts, and who are highly representative of the gifted.

In addition to helping quiet people thrive in a culture that idealizes extroversion, she gives leaders the tools to manage diverse groups in the same setting, and to develop the talent that is quietly under their noses.

Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com  to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

 

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